The 36 holes of qualifying for match play in the BMW Philadelphia Amateur is pretty much a dawn-to-dusk affair with the early starters warming up as the sun starts to rise and the inevitable playoff – this one was 11 players for the final eight spots – finishing up as the sun is setting.
The Golf Association of Philadelphia couldn’t have asked for better weather at the tail end of what has been a pretty miserable spring. And when all the counting was done Tuesday, Ryan Rucinski, a Wilmington College junior who plays out of Fieldstone Golf Club, had earned the qualifying medal with a 1-under-par 71 at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club and a 1-under 70 a few miles down Germantown Pike at Green Valley Country Club for a 2-under 141 total.
The 21-year-old Rucinski, who competed as an individual in the NCAA Division II Championship at Robert Trent Jones at the Shoals in Muscle Shoals, Ala., was the only player in the 134-man field to finish under par.
It’s right back at it Wednesday morning as Rucinski will take on the final survivor of that bulky playoff, Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Marc Mandel – fellow Cricket Club member John Brennan was the last man out – in the opening round of match play at Whitemarsh Valley, which – I know this is hard to believe, but I was there a couple of times – used to host a regular PGA Tour stop, like every year. What a concept, a regular PGA Tour stop in one of the great golf cities on the planet.
Rucinski stood atop a group of 32 survivors, as always, a wide array of talented players. Maybe the proof of how good those 32 are is all the great players, about 100 or so, whose dream of a Philly Am title – they’ve been playing this thing as long as that little gathering up on Long Island this week, it is the 118th renewal of each – did not survive Tuesday’s grueling 36 holes of stroke play.
Chief among them was Merion Golf Club’s Michael McDermott, who won the first of his three Philly Am titles at Whitemarsh Valley a decade ago. After a solid 2-over 73 in the morning at the 6,766-yard, par-71 Green Valley layout, McDermott struggled to an 80 at the 6,789-yard, par-72 Whitemarsh Valley layout. His 153 total was four shots behind the 149 score posted by the 11 players who battled it out for the final eight spots in match play.
After a round of match play first thing Wednesday morning, the 16 survivors will do it again, a second round of match play Wednesday afternoon that will whittle the field to eight quarterfinalists.
The quarterfinals are scheduled for Thursday morning with the two finalists determined in the semifinals Thursday afternoon. The last two standing play a scheduled 36-hole final Saturday. It is a mental and physical test that always seems to produce a worthy champion.
Rucinski admitted he didn’t have his “A” game Tuesday, but putting up a number without being at his best is exactly what he’s been working on with White Manor Country Club head of instruction John Dunigan, named one of the top 100 teachers in America by Golf Digest last year.
Rucinski had four birdies and three bogeys while hitting only seven greens in the morning at Whitemarsh Valley. One of the greens he missed, the par-4 18th, his ninth of the day, he chipped in for birdie. It’s the kind of shot that builds momentum.
He was much more consistent in the afternoon at Green Valley, hitting 11 greens and finishing off the round with 13 straight pars on a day when par was a very good score.
Matthew Finger of DuPont Country Club bounced back from a morning 75 at Green Valley to record the best round of the day at Whitemarsh Valley, a 4-under 68, to finish second at even-par 143, two shots behind Rucinski.
The next two guys on the list finished tied for third at 1-over 144 and know what it takes to slug their way to an amateur title in one of these great city golf associations in the country.
One is the defending champion, Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Gregor Orlando, who matched par at Green Valley in the morning with a 71 and added a 1-over 73 at Whitemarsh Valley in the afternoon. Orlando captured the title a year ago on his home course, the Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course, an A.W. Tillinghast masterpiece.
The other is the reigning Met Amateur champion – Met as in New York Metropolitan area – Matthew Mattare, who lives in Jersey City, N.J. and plays out of Saucon Valley Country Club. Mattare posted a 2-over 73 in the morning at Green Valley and then carded a 1-under 71 at Whitemarsh Valley.
Mattare tuned up for his Met Amateur victory by winning the Philadelphia Open at Philadelphia Country Club, an effort that included a competitive course record 63 at another of the classic layouts that adorn the Philadelphia area. You get the picture, he will be a tough out in match play.
Another former champion is among the six players who finished tied for fifth at 2-over 145. That would be Huntingdon Valley Country Club’s Jeff Osberg, who won the title in 2014 at White Manor. Osberg carded a 1-over 72 at Green Valley before adding a 1-over 73 at Whitemarsh Valley.
Osberg was pretty quiet in 2017 after a monstrous 2016 that included wins in the Philadelphia Open and the Patterson Cup and a runnerup finish to his buddy McDermott in an epic Phillly Am final at Merion’s historic East Course. Dangerous? Absolutely.
Also in that group are a couple of former Temple teammates, at least I’m pretty sure they’re former teammates. Pretty sure John Barone of Dunmore and Glenmaura National Golf Club, who was a redshirt junior on Brian Quinn’s roster, will be back with the Owls. After shooting a 75 at Whitemarsh Valley, Barone posted a solid 1-under 70 in the afternoon at Green Valley.
RiverCrest Golf Club & Preserve’s Marty McGuckin, an Inter-Ac League champion in 2016 as a senior at Malvern Prep, started the 2017-’18 season as a sophomore on the Temple roster, but was not on the roster at he end of the season. He matched par with a 71 at Green Valley in the morning before adding a 2-over 74 at Whitemarsh Valley in the afternoon.
Spring-Ford Country Club’s Ryan Tall, the Central League champion as a junior at Conestoga in the fall of 2016, also joined the group at 2-over 145 as he followed up an even-par 72 at Whitemarsh Valley with a 2-over 73 at Green Valley.
Eight players finished tied for 11th at 3-over 146, including two former champions, White Manor’s Scott Ehrlich, the 2004 winner, and LuLu Country Club’s James Sullivan Jr., who inscribed his name on the J. Wood Platt Trophy in 1999. Ehrlich bounced back from a morning 75 at Green Valley with a 1-under 71 at Whitemarsh Valley while Sullivan opened with a 75 at Whitemarsh Valley before matching par at Green Valley with a 71.
Huntingdon Valley’s Ben Feld, the head golf coach at Drexel, matched Ehrlich’s effort, a 1-under 71 at Whitemarsh in the afternoon after a 75 at Green Valley in the morning.
Another dangerous name in the match-play bracket is that of Aronimink Golf Club’s Michael Davis, another former Malvern Prep standout who just wrapped up an outstanding college career at Princeton. Davis, the runnerup in this championship in 2015 at Llanerch Country Club, opened with a 1-over 72 at Green Valley and added a 2-over 74 at Whitemarsh Valley in the afternoon.
Monday, I chronicled the effort of Austin Barbin, one of the area’s top junior players from Elkton, Md. who had the best score of the day, a 1-under 70, to headline a Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Tour Junior PGA Championship qualifier at Bent Creek Country Club.
And Barbin, playing as a GAP Junior e Club representative, carried that momentum right through 36 holes of Philly Am qualifying, earning a spot in the match-play bracket with rounds of 75 at Whitemarsh Valley and 72 at Green Valley for a 4-over 147 that left him tied for 19th.
Hey, you make match play in the Philadelphia Amateur, you’re a player. The late, great Chris Fuga told me that in 2015 at Llanerch. I couldn’t agree more.